Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
After breaking up three years prior, The Black Crowes reunited in 2005 and began work on a record that would shift away from the rollicking radio-ready electric blues boogie of Shake Your Money Maker and the space-kissed psychedelia of 2001’s Lions. The resulting LP, 2008’s Warpaint, featured a balanced narrative of contemplative ballads on America’s southern mountain life: bittersweet odes to sunsets, backwoods swamp-stomp evangelism and a subtle, irreverent iconoclasm reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor.
All of which revealed Chris’ and Rich Robinson’s deep roots in the lore of early-20th-century Appalachian folk music that framed up new context for their earlier records. Where Money Maker seemed to have managed for years to dupe WMMR listeners into thinking a band of self-proclaimed Skynyrd-haters were nevertheless southern-fried in that same oily batter, Warpaint (along with the subsequent Before The Frost…Until The Freeze, released the following year) seemed to have made it clear that the joke was always kind of on all those myopic “rock and roll fans” who think they hate country music and are too stubborn and blinkered to draw the obvious connections.
Now, five years after the last time the Crowes broke up again — “forever” this time, they vowed — the Robinson brothers, having moved past publicly traded recriminations, have reconciled to hit the road together for a limited-engagement tour of intimate acoustic evenings, in promotion of a full-scale, full-band tour coming up this summer.
And so it was, that the privileged few filed up the stairs at the Fillmore Friday night to find the Foundry’s cozy little stage set with a faded area rug, a pair of mic stands, a little coffee table dressed with a salmon colored cloth, and the lyrics to Crowes’ now-30-year-old debut single “Jealous Again” displayed by the monitor amps.
The first (and last) time the brothers Robinson came around on their own with intimate shows like this was back in 2006, not long before Warpaint came out, on a tour featuring more luxuriant setlists of acoustically retrofitted Crowes hits played alongside covers of songs by some of the seminal journeymen of early country music, like Roy Acuff and Lefty Frizzell. On Friday, the Robinson brothers abridged this iteration, dispensing with the decorative trim, and studding the expected greatest-hits jukebox with select deep-cut highlights like “Oh Josephine” and “Whoa Mule.”
The audience was an assembly of suds-soaked soldiers of the “MM-aRmy” who seemed more interested in chattering through a set than showing some due respect for the artists they paid to see. (Crowes fans will appreciate that, true to form, Rich leaned toward non-confrontational civility. Crowes fans will also appreciate that, also true to form, Chris did not. Deservedly, he twice blasted the audience, threatening, “get it fucking together. Or we can just play “She Talks To Angels” and fuck off, if you want.”) Regardless, the set was a glorious baker’s dozen of almost-all-Crowes originals, delivered by two birds still perched high at the top of their game, up close and personal. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER